Sherry Williams, the founder of the Bronzeville Historical Society, celebrated the grand opening Saturday, October 30. The organization was founded in 1999 to preserve documents, photographs, memorabilia, and cultural practices of black Chicagoans. Located at the historic Parkway Ballroom building, the new space is 5,000 square feet with three classrooms. The entrance has the Re-Imagine Aunt Jemima Exhibit honoring Nancy Green and other women that portrayed the brand. The exhibit was featured at the Carter G. Woodson Library and is on display at the Bronzeville Historical Society until December 31, 2021.
“The Parkway Ballroom is one of the most important landmarks in Bronzeville’s history. Several celebrities have performed shows here, such as Nat King Cole, Louis Armstrong, Count Basie, and Dizzy Gillespie. In addition, Paul Robeson had his 60th birthday party, and Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. held several balls and gathering at this location,” says Williams.
Inside the new space, the walls are full of photographs of the late Izola White, owner of Izola’s Restaurant, once located on the south side of Chicago. White’s collection was donated to the Bronzeville Historical Society. There are also photos of Rep. Charles Hayes, Mayor Harold Washington, Mayor Eugene Sawyer, and photographs of unknown police officers that Wiliams plans to identify the brave men and women in blue.
Williams plans to work closely with two elementary schools to have storytelling, provide homework assistance and have parents share their family history at the historical society. Williams stressed the importance of preserving history. “The first thing that I remind people is that no one is responsible for protecting our history and culture but us. That’s why it’s important to support the Bronzeville Historical Society by visiting, volunteering, and supporting programs. We will not be able to preserve our history unless everyone believes and understands that they are responsible for making that happen. So we have to roll up our sleeves and do this together, collectively,” says Williams.
Williams learned about her history through her grandmother and passed those rich stories and pictures to her children and granddaughter. She introduced to them about the Great Migration, and her brother was one of many African Americans to integrate Gage Park High School. “My daughters were young when the Bronzeville Historical Society started. They understood they had a responsibility. They began collecting stories, and that is what led us to start a historical society. I had no idea, knowing my neighbor for years, that her father was a Pullman Porter and next door to her lived Maudelle B. Bousfield, the first black principal of Wendell Phillips High School. Anyone who wants to celebrate the ancestors, elders, or themselves, write it down. Use your smartphone and let your children interview you and use that as a way to record your own story and share it with the Bronzeville Historical Society. It’s essential to have parents engage children with their family history, especially those who lived in Bronzeville,” says Williams.
The Bronzeville Historical Society, located at 4455 S. King Drive, is open Thursday-Saturday from 10:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m. by appointment only. For more information, go to https://bronzevillehistoricalsociety.wordpress.com or social media @BronzevilleHistorical
Tammy Gibson is a black history traveler and author. Find her on social media @SankofaTravelHr2